By Dele Sobowale
“FG shuns Kokori, Labour, inaugurates NSITF Board.”
“We will expose Ngige to international ridicule.” NLC President.—VANGUARD, May 14, 2019, front page.
Something must be wrong! I just found myself agreeing with Buhari twice in one week. First, I was absolutely delighted to read about Godwin Emefiele’s re-appointment. It was a decision I had advocated and urged others to convince Buhari to adopt. I met Emefiele only once during his first term and two hours after entering his office in Abuja, it occurred to me that we might have a man who could be allowed a longer term to work his brand of “magic” on the Nigerian economy. Believe me; the economy is in a mess. But, it could have been worse under a different Governor. It is not easy managing monetary policy when there is no fiscal policy to speak of and when the annual budget is treated as a joke by the Executive and legislative branches. “A plague on all their houses” – as Shakespeare, 1564-1616, would announce. At least, Buhari knows when to leave “good enough alone”.
Just when I thought that Buhari has earned all the kudos possible this season, given the trope of bad news coming in, the President again surprised me. If he had been around when the news of his rejection of Frank Kokori was read on Channels (naturally), I think I might have done the most unusual thing. I would have prostrated to thank him for the courage to say NO to those bullies of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC.
Incidentally, the entire episode has caught me on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand is Chief Frank Kokori, one of the distinct heroes of the Abacha era. I recall being invited by former Colonel Frank Omenka, to the Directorate of Military Intelligence, DMI, Apapa, to be given a stern warning to “stop writing all that rubbish about Abacha, otherwise your fate would be worse than that of Kokori, who we finally arrested yesterday”. Omenka did not see the tears in my eyes on account of that report. Kokori had risked everything for June 12; his family had suffered immeasurable hardship. I fervently prayed he would not be caught; and there he was in chains – which might soon be used to tie me up. On his own, I would have fought for Kokori’s appointment to any office he wants.
On the other hand, there is Dr Chris Ngige, probably the worst choice for Minister made by Buhari. A President claiming to fight corruption, who appoints, as Minister, a self-confessed election rigger and Governor’s mandate thief, has lost a great deal of credibility. Each time Buhari and Osinbajo proclaim the integrity of their members in the All Progressives Congress, APC, my mind goes to Ngige. Then, I wonder if President and VP are forgetful or they are dissembling with straight faces.
If all are equal before the law in Nigeria, Ngige should not have left Obasanjo’s office in Aso Rock with Mba after they both confessed to rigging the Anambra State election with Chief Audu Ogbeh there as a witness. But, ever hypocritical, OBJ merely asked them to “Leave my office”. Ngige is totally unfit to be a Minister in any country where honour counts for anything. If it had been a case of Ngige versus Kokori, there would have been no contest. A hero deserves support always. So, why am I happy that Buhari turned down Kokori?
“A precedent embalms a principle”. William Scott, 1745-1836.
The President of Nigeria is elected to govern the country for the benefit of all Nigerians, and, in my view, that means applying the principle of taking measures which confer the greatest benefit to the greatest number of Nigerians. That is the ideal – which cannot always be achieved. But, Presidents and Governors must keep that principle in mind even when paying political debts with appointments. As much as possible they should not be seen to be bullied into making appointments by a small group seeking its own interest.
The NLC’s advocacy for Kokori’s appointment represents all the negative aspects of canvassing or lobbying. They were demanding, as of right, that Kokori be appointed. That is totally beyond the legal prerogatives of unions. The Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, NSITF, does not serve unions exclusively. So, they cannot alone expect to determine who will be the Board Chairman. At any rate, the law establishing NSITF stipulates who can appoint members of the Board. It certainly cannot be the NLC. That already makes their demand illegitimate. They can lobby, beg, advocate, like any other people, but they cannot insist on it.
Meanwhile, Buhari, like all Chief Executives had delegated his powers of appointment to the Minister who, in this case chose someone else instead of Kokori. Even if, Kokori had been “promised” the appointment, he is not entitled to it until the letter of appointment is delivered. The President or/and Minister can change their minds at any time and nobody can raise a query. We might not like the decision (and I am really sorry Kokori was dropped), but it is their decision to make. If Buhari had given Ngige the power to appoint the Chairman, then he must stand by Ngige. And so would I – despite my regard for Kokori and low opinion of Ngige. We will be establishing a bad precedent if we allow the NLC and the unions to bully Ngige and to reverse their decision.
“Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are.”
In fact, if there is one good reason to stand by Buhari and Ngige on this matter, it is the hooliganism which has replaced unionism demonstrated by the NLC when they invaded Ngige’s home at Asokoro. The leadership of NLC, especially Mr Ayuba Wabba, could not have thought deeply, if they thought at all, before embarking on that mindless adventure in a bid to obtain by force what is not theirs by right. Ngige’s home, like everyman’s, is his castle. Whatever he does as Minister; ends in his office. At home, with his wife and family, he is just another husband, father and perhaps grandfather. He is entitled to his privacy. His family members are even more entitled to their peace of mind at home. What right has the NLC to violate those rights?
Furthermore, the Ngige family is only one of several families living on that street. Possibly, no other Minister or public official lives there. Are the neighbours not entitled to peace in their homes? On what grounds can the NLC leadership excuse the collateral damage done to others – including others using the road? Later, the ill-considered blockade ended in stampede. Who would be expected to pay for damages to cars and other properties belonging to others? Anyway one looks at it, this is not the way Labour in a civilised society conducts itself. On that day and on that street, those involved were not on Labor assignment or mission. They were just a bunch of hooligans attempting to bully one man. The question now is: what are the rest of us supposed to do about this matter, especially after the NLC has vowed to ridicule Ngige globally?
President Buhari has exhibited courage by appointing Mr Austin Enajemo-Isire, for reasons known to him and which we have no cause to dispute. So, the first thing is to applaud Buhari’s decision. Mindless violence or bad manners by anybody or group should never be allowed to pay. Kokori, meanwhile, should begin to distance himself from the NLC – which seems to have a not so well hidden agenda. The Minimum Wage Bill, which they expected will be implemented immediately, will certainly not be. Buhari had built up false hopes by “ordering” immediate implementation while forgetting that he only pays federal workers. Even the FG cannot implement immediately because a lot of work still needs to be done before government workers at all levels can start receiving the new emoluments. It is now beginning to dawn on Labour leaders that they have made promises to the rank and file which cannot now be fulfilled. In their individual and collective lack of knowledge about Public Finance, they have overlooked various organs created by law which must work on the implementation before governments can start paying. Many of them cannot work based on Buhari’s television announcement. This is a democracy. So, the attack on Ngige is only a prelude to other attacks on governments nationwide if they fail to pay “immediately”.
As legitimate stakeholders, the rest of us can fold our arms and let Labour selfishly hold governments to ransom. On the other hand we can respond two ways. The rest of us workers, who don’t belong to organised labour, should make it clear to the NLC, ASUU etc, that they don’t represent us. We should not join any strike called by them because we have nothing to gain from the Bill.
Furthermore, we should provide support to Federal, State and Local governments in their collective request for more time to implement the new bill in a way that will benefit all of us. As it is now, organised labour will be paid the new wages but the rest of us will pay for it. The small percentage of workers constituting organised labour will tax the rest of us for their own benefit only. They went to negotiate a new Minimum Wage which specifically excluded those working for Small and Medium Scale Enterprises as well as mini-proprietorships. According to the NLC’s view of workers, the driver attached to a Minister is a worker and is entitled to the Minimum wage. My driver, who actually covers more kilometres every year is not covered. Yet, they shop in the same markets and might be paying rent to the same landlord. A secretary in the Ministry will collect new wages when all the details have been worked out. But, the Secretary working for a lawyer will have to fight for herself. Yet, they want ALL workers to join harassing governments all over the Federation to pay immediately. I am a worker. What is my benefit from the Minimum Wage law?
Some of them and their supporters in academia and the media have suggested that the Federal Government and states can pay by increasing Internally Generated Revenue, IGR. If they ridicule Ngige; we ridicule them. But, when the Federal Government wants to remove subsidy and deregulate the petroleum sector, re-introduce toll gates, increase Value Added Tax, VAT, and pass the PIB, the same group of people reject all of them on the grounds that they will be inflationary. The new wage bill will also increase inflation. But, all Nigerians are supposed to live with that and not the others. The states are also not to be allowed to increase tenement rate or Land Use, or any tariffs for motor parks etc. Apparently, the “Know-Nothings” in NLC expect the FG and state governors to perform magic in order to pay them. It won’t happen.
“The battle that counts is the last.” Nuedstat, in PRESIDENTS AND POWER.
The bottom line to all these is clear. Nigerians must stand by the President and the Minister in this confrontation with Labour. Many of us in the public domain are not hooligans out of choice and because we have been well-brought up by caring parents. But, the NLC will be making a serious mistake to think they possess a monopoly of rudeness. They had a taste of what others can do if provoked when they went to Asokoro. I don’t know who challenged them; but, certainly they have got the message. If they disturb people in their homes, they must be resisted by all the means at the disposal of the occupants.
MUTUAL HATRED IS APC’S NEXT LEVEL.
“Buhari is the glue binding the APC together. When he goes, everybody will go to his house.” Senator Sani, Kaduna State, 2018.
Buhari is a lame-duck President; even before starting his second term in office.
The All Progressives Congress, APC, was a special purpose vehicle created for the election of Buhari and to enable some individuals in the South West to be in government for the first time since independence. Buhari has now been elected for the second term and, already, all the danger signs are there that the association might disintegrate before 2023.